Every day, people make decisions that impact their health – large and small, routine and new, deliberately and unwittingly. Our food choices, in particular, receive almost unending attention from the media, the government, employers, schools, doctors and, of course, our families. Yet along with the science behind calls to "cut calories!," "lower your sugar!," and "eat more veggies!" are the strategic practices of marketing unhealthy fare to hungry, busy consumers.
Claiming customer empowerment, Domino's Pizza handed its menu over to customers by turning them into online "Pizza Moguls" who create their own crust and toppings combinations. Moguls can earn a percentage of Domino's profits if other customers order their custom pizza. But when given options, how many people choose the healthiest one?
Numerous studies have shown that most of us aren't so great at this – we stick with the wrong health insurance plan, "we'll have fries with that," we still smoke, and we drink acai juice to "slow the aging process by boosting immune and metabolic function and removing destructive free radicals from our bodies." We can't be wholly blamed for doing so.
Behind most of these products and services is a well-funded, well-researched, widespread marketing campaign created specifically to win consumers' dollars and behaviors. In the case of Domino's Pizza Mogul promotion, the top-selling pizza so far is the Mega Meat Lovers, "a heart-stopping combination of rasher bacon, ground beef, seasoned chicken, smoked ham, pepperoni, pulled pork, Italian sausage, mozzarella and barbecue sauce."
McDonald's hopes that by updating its menu and increasing transparency, it can recoup some of its recent financial losses. To do so, McD's has just spent an undisclosed amount of money to bring in the former co-host of Myth Busters, Grant Imahara, to answer questions about what goes into McDonald's meat – specifically its McRib sandwich. They've also created a catchy advent-style calendar with 100 reasons to eat one and priced the sandwich at just $1.99. It's a marketing double-whammy by which thousands will likely be persuaded.
Few foods exemplify our dizzying array of options (and resulting decisions) as the grocery store beverage aisle. The Coca-Cola Company alone has over 110 trademarked drinks (and 127 flavor combinations from the new Coke Freestyle Machine). Pepsi currently makes 870 different beverages, but they're considering adding another: nacho chips. Why? A Pepsi spokesperson says, "We are always testing out new flavors of Mountain Dew, and giving our fans a voice in helping decide on the next new product has always been important to us." Pepsi isn't pitching healthiness; it's merely hoping to be novel enough to attract new buyers.
If water is really the only beverage we need and pizza and burgers are rarely healthy choices, then the government, employers and schools need to step up their game. Maybe they should take a page from the playbooks of top marketers like Coke, Pepsi and Domino's.